After learning more about Impact 21’s greatest success stories and most challenging projects over the last 21 years, let’s talk about some industry-wide topics.
Q: What was a common concern for c-stores twenty years ago? What is a big issue today, and what concerns will remain twenty years later?
Lesley: That’s a great question. Twenty years ago, the industry was not as fragmented as it is today. Many of the stores were owned by large oil companies, and while the major focus for them was to sell fuel, most were looking at the inside of the store as a major new opportunity to offset volatile fuel prices. It was at this point that businesses realized the needed to focus more on process, technology, and people. Centralized Pricebook, scanning, category management, merchandising, automation, analytics, and foodservice were top of mind.
The entire landscape for convenience has changed in the past 20 years through oil company divestitures and mergers and acquisitions from companies inside and outside the US. Today, most c-store retailers have made significant investments in technology and automation, and fuel, merchandise, and food sales are doing pretty well. Even though sales in convenience have continued to rise due to higher prices, the biggest concern today is that fewer customers are actually entering the stores than ever before. One main reason for that is increased competition from other channels and non-traditional retail. The foodservice industry overall has really upped their game. Mobile order and pay, drive-throughs, and online commerce, which was up 18-19% in the last two years, have negatively impacted convenience transaction counts. In 2018, the average inside-of-the-store transaction counts dropped by over 640. Historically, c-stores have been stable and recession resistant. Now, overall trends seem to be challenging this norm.
The focus today is about getting more people to come into the store and/or to interact with the brand in new and different ways. In fact, fuel transactions in convenience were actually up in 2019 by 4%. Most convenience stores and technology providers are focused on ways to interact with customers before, during, and after their fueling experience in ways that will entice and incentivize them to purchase food and merchandise on this or their next visit. Providing loyalty offers and/or personalized content at the pump while fueling is an approach being used by some retailers, while many others are utilizing their mobile apps and geofencing to target consumers with relevant messaging, even before they come to the store.
This is where loyalty and digital programs come in to help track behaviors and communicate with customers, wherever they are, about the brand and provide messaging and offers that are relevant to them. This level of personalization isn’t going away. Having one look and feel across all digital and marketing platforms for your customers is growing in importance, as well as the ability to engage customers with relevancy and personalization. In the next 20 years, this will still be a focus for c-stores, regardless of what convenience products and services are being offered.
Lisa: The challenges Lesley shared are very relevant to each of our clients. The key to success in these areas is understanding strategic and tactical touch points. Managing competing priorities across the many technologies in place for fuel, retail, foodservice, customer engagement and loyalty, and work force management is critical. Too often, we see companies deploy only a fraction of available technologies and often not enough to resolve the actual business problems.
Many of our issues dealt with infrastructure issue 20 years ago. And now we see many touchpoints with customer facing solutions in the forefront. Rethinking infrastructure is still a concern today and will still be relevant 20 years from now.
While technologies shift and change, the problems remain the same. If technologies aren’t leveraged as they are designed, processes will not be fully automated. Companies will continue to purchase overlapping systems without even realizing it. And that comes with a high cost. This is especially true with the ease of use and integration of technologies today.
Companies without a central procurement process really have no clue how many systems, apps, and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are purchased and deployed across their company, or worse, not deployed. It’s time to take a step back and know what you have in front of you. C-stores and retailers should understand how to integrate systems, processes, and data strategies in order to close real gaps which solve pain points. If this doesn’t change, we will no doubt be having the same conversation 20 years from now.
Chief Executive Officer
Lesley Saitta knows a thing or two about convenience. She has been engaged in the chemical, petroleum and convenience channels, as a consultant and retailer, for over 35 years. As CEO of Impact 21…
Lisa Biggs Stewart
Lisa Biggs Stewart’s passion for operational excellence, along with her 27+ years of practical and technical experience in the petroleum, convenience, and retail industries, has served her team and clients well. As Co-founder and President of Impact 21…